Photographer was figure on local art, film scene
CHAMPAIGN – Scott Mutter was a familiar figure among artists, revolutionaries and hippies as the 1960s blurred into the 1970s.
A member of the leftist Students for A Democratic Society who studied Chinese with revolutionary zeal, Mr. Mutter decided film would be his instrument to foment revolution.
That segued into photo montage posters that gained him fame, first on campus walls, then in books and stores everywhere.
His "surrational" images of trees growing from a parquet floor and halls emerging from a forehead were seen everywhere.
In more recent years, Mr. Mutter moved to Chicago and experimented with computer montages.
He was found dead Saturday by a cleaning lady in his Chicago home. He was 64.
In the early '70s, you were likely to spot him in Bubby and Zadie's, a New York-style basement deli that survived years of flooding at Sixth and Green streets.
Or you might have seen him at a campus film showing at the University YMCA, the McKinley Foundation or the Channing-Murray Foundation, at a time before DVDs and VCRs, when young people gathered in herds to watch movies together on fold-up seats.
Rich Palmer of Urbana was a friend for decades. He met Mr. Mutter in his post-revolutionary phase, about 1973, at Bubby and Zadie's.
Though the photographer was soft-spoken to within a whisper of inaudibility at times, Mr. Mutter was well-known to the people who hung out at the deli and respected him as a philosopher.
"Almost inevitably if you were a regular, you got to know other regulars," Palmer said.
"This was back in the day when people actually talked to each other instead of staring at laptops. It was a gathering place for bohemian political types who talked about everything under the sun."
Mr. Mutter liked to talk about how art could reflect some concepts had learned while studying Chinese.
The Chinese have a character for "sun," and another for "tree," and when you put them together, they spelled "East," the sun rising past the tree, the photographer told his friend.
So in his photo montages he might take on image, like a forest of trees, and exactingly join the image with a library's parquet floors on a print, hinting at continuities.
Palmer spent hours watching his friend in the darkroom, using techniques that are becoming lost, to come up with individual prints.
Later, these were published as posters, and Mr. Mutter had his first taste of financial success, as a couple dozen of his images began to proliferate on dorm room walls.
That was followed by shows, and then a University of Illinois Press book, published in 1992 and still in print.
About that time, Mr. Mutter moved to the Chicago area, where his brother, Robert, lives. Their parents are deceased; he also had a sister, Ann Reisner.
Mr. Mutter never married or had children, but he was like a family member to people like Lynn Petrie-Springer of Urbana, who is now a massage therapist but came to know him through a shared love of film.
Mr. Mutter was a co-founder, with the late Ron Epple, of the Expanded Cinema Group, which showed movies on campus for a buck a pop, and was the national distributor for short, experimental and art films.
Petrie-Springer's future husband already worked for the film group, and she was drawn into a world that grew out of the house the co-founders shared on John Street, just west of Campustown.
The group included Kevin Barry Howe, who went on to become an assistant director, and Fred Marx, who won an Oscar as one of the three filmmakers of "Hoop Dreams.""It was close to a commune," Petrie-Springer says of the group's home, which had a projection room in the attic and gaggles of 20-somethings and 30-somethings on every floor, the air scented with marijuana.
The film group was run "loosely" at times, Petrie-Springer said, with workers/friends playing games to keep things interesting into the third showing that night of "Harold and Maude" or "King of Hearts."
"Scott would come around and collect the money. He always had such a big cheery smile when it went well," she said.
Funeral services for Mr. Mutter will be at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Paul of the Cross Church, Park Ridge.
Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Ryan-Parke Funeral Home, 120 South Northwest Highway, Park Ridge.
His burial will be in Ohio.